Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lemon Lime Meringue Tarts

Being borderline obsessive-compulsive and having little (if any) impulse control has several ramifications, not least of all on my wallet and the storage space (or lack thereof) in our apartment. This explains my cookbook compulsion, irrational behaviour characterised by the following misguided logic:

1.When in doubt, buy.
A girl can never have too many (this, incidentally, applies equally to shoes).
2.If it's pretty, buy.
As a result, I have heaps of books which I leaf through not so much to cook from but to sigh over the sheer beauty of their pages.
3.It doesn't matter if one is already in possession of similar books, buy.
In practice, this means a growing backlog of recipes I am A. Dying to try, or B. Would like to try, or C. Am dubious about, but curiosity is sufficiently piqued to give it a go sometime.

The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather is a classic case in point. Did I really need another compendium of as-American-as-apple-pie classics, a genre my bookshelf already very adequately represents? Afterall, how many ultimate brownie recipes can there exist? I was however fatally attracted to the cover picture, that of a brazen blonde of a lemon tart, replensdent in her flamboyant bronze-highlighted crown of meringue. I finally made the tarts today - having owned the book for close to a year now, it's certainly high time. Ms. Rather's signature Texas Big Hairs Lemon-Lime Meringue Tarts are a tongue-in-cheek reference to the more outre blowouts apparently popular in the locale of the Rather Sweet Bakery & Cafe. Their blowsy appearance is the perfect prelude to the drama of their taste - a tangy citrus curd encased by a delectably crumbly pastry case enriched with pecans, the whole rounded out by cloud-soft poufs of sugary meringue. The coif I went for in the end is more ingenue than diva, more a quirky mop of pert spikes rather than a hairsprayed helmet, but I can only imagine a platter full of different dos may be rather amusing.

The recipe below is based on the original, which calls for a straightforward egg whites-and-sugar meringue. This is fine if the tarts are to be served shortly after being assembled and browned(the pastry cases and curd can be made way ahead, only the meringue needs to be whipped last minute), not so fine if you plan to make them earlier in the day. Sitting out for a couple of hours, particularly in humid climes, results in weeping and puddling where the meringue meets the curd - unsightly, not to mention distasteful. I've stabilised the meringue with the addition of a tiny bit of cornstarch, a nifty technique I had gleaned from Baking Illustrated. This little bit of tricksy buys you greater make-ahead leeway. The tarts, nonetheless, should be eaten the same day.

Lemon Lime Meringue Tarts
(Adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather)

For the tart cases: 1.5 cups pecans, toasted for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit till aromatic then coarsely chopped; 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the tart pans; 1 cup confectioner's sugar; 2 tsp vanilla extract; 1.5 cups plain all-purpose flour; 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

For the lemon-lime curd: 1.5 cups caster sugar; finely grated zest of 2 lemons; 10 extra large egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue); 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice; 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice; 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed

For the meringue: 1 Tbsp cornstarch; 1/3 cup water; 1/4 tsp cream of tartar; 1/2 cup caster sugar; 4 extra large egg whites; 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Butter eight 3-inch tart pans or rings. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar in bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment till fluffy on medium high speed, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, blend. Add flour and salt, mixing in on lowest speed until just incorporated. Stir in chopped pecans. Wrap dough and chill at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide dough into eight portions. Roll each out to fit prepared pans snugly, dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Blind bake for 20 minutes, removing the parchment and rice, beans or pastry weights for the last 5 minutes of baking. Let cool completely. (These can be made ahead and stored in airtight containers for up to 2 days.)

Blitz the sugar and lemon zest together in a processor or blender until the sugar is pale yellow and fragrant. Whisk the yolks and sugar together in a medium heat-proof bowl until smooth. Add the lemon and lime juices and whisk again. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly with a spatula and being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, until it thickens (the consistency should be like that of sour cream), but do not let the mixture come to the boil. Immediately take the bowl off the pan, and push the mixture through a chinois or other fine-meshed sieve into a mixing bowl. Now add the butter, which should be very malleable but still cool, a few cubes at a time, stirring each addition until completely incorporated before adding the next. Press clingwrap against surface of the curd (this prevents a skin from forming) and chill for at least 4 hours, and up to 2 days.

Mix cornstarch with water in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to ensure it's lump-free. As mixture starts to simmer and thicken, remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix cream of tartar and sugar. Beat egg whites and vanilla till frothy with whisk attachment of mixer. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 Tbsp at a time, until sugar is incorporated and the mixture forms soft peaks. Add the cornstarch mixture, 1 Tbsp at a time. Continue beating till stiff and shiny. Now assemble the tarts. Spoon the chilled curd into the pastry cases, filling them 4/5ths of the way to the top. Now either pile the meringue atop freestyle, teasing into jagged peaks with your fingers or the back of a spoon, or use a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle to create a spiky crown. Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack and serve the same day.

Makes 8 tarts


Blogger Nic said...

I shouldn't think there would be a problem finishing up those tarts in one day. They look great, J. And I also found myself nodding in agreement with your cookbook-buying (il)logic.

2:57 am, September 11, 2005  
Blogger Cathy said...

Hi J - your tarts are beautiful and sound so good! I didn't know that cornstarch trick, so I was glad to learn of it. I really like your spiky dos, but the idea of having an assortment sounds like fun.

P.S. - I have a similar habit of acquiring cookbooks for the weakest of reasons.

4:59 am, September 11, 2005  
Blogger Ruth Daniels said...

The meringues look delightful. I always love your photos. As for your shopping logic, I couldn't agree more.

I'm amazed at how many cookbooks I've bought just because the cover was too fabulous to resist, or I was hungry and flipping through a book had me drooling, or I was at some restaurant that was wonderful and had to buy their cookbook. Some I've used, others I intend to, and the rest - well I shake my head and, sometimes, I even remember why I bought it.

11:36 am, September 11, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

What a sweet intro on the logic of buying cookbooks - and I couldn't agree more! If I ever have to move again, it's gonna be difficult and mainly because of the endless piles of cookbooks and food magazines I've aquired over the years.
And those lemon/lime merengue tarts look really cool with their spiky hairdos!! Thanks for the recipe (and again - I would have fallen for that cover picture of Rather's book, too..)
PS Did you ever buy that Georgian cookbook?

6:15 pm, September 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are the classiest little meringue pies I've ever seen! And I laughed at your cookbook mentality as well. Only cos I can totally identify with it!

7:31 pm, September 11, 2005  
Blogger Unknown said...

totally agree with cookbook acquisition logic, only things that can stop the onslaught - lack of funds, space and drastic change in behaviour of usually understanding spouse... loved your desserts, so far they've been these little mini tartlets and bite-sized, really - it really shows your attention to detail.

10:46 pm, September 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

love your take on the classic lemon meringue pie. dainty, classy and packs a citrus punch! fantastic :)

couldn't help but nod my head in reference to the cookbook mentality. sometimes all it takes is a pretty picture. hence the reason i try to avoid walking into bookstores.

11:18 pm, September 11, 2005  
Blogger deborah said...

such itsy-bitsy moments of joy. love your meringue peaks!

9:03 am, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi nic, thanks...between two greedy adults and two greedy dachschunds, it luckily wasn't an issue

hi cathy, i am a big believer in cooking ahead, the cornstarch trick does come in pretty handy for all manner of meringue-topped tarts and pies

hi ruth, thanks...i have my fair share of duds too, but being sentimentally attached (as opposed to having any real use for them) means i've yet to get rid of day...

hi pille, thanks...i know exactly what you mean.the idea of having to transport my books and mags anywhere is too tiring to book - after all you've told me about georgian cookery, how could i possibly resist ;)

hi ag, amuses me to think of them as tarts with tops on ;)

hi eatzycath, thanks...fortunately for me, w is afflicted by other equally consuming obsessions, so he can't complain too much about my habit ;D

hi chubbycat, thanks...fighting the urge to enter the bookshop is futile for me ;)

hi soycap, thanks...unfortunately, i tend to eat with my eyes first...and yes, thanks to amazon, even staying at home can be awfully dangerous...

hi skrat, thanks...hope you like fran bigelow's book - it's one of my new faves...

hi saffron, thanks...'styling' the meringue was definitely the fun part

2:39 pm, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Lori said...

The second I laid eyes on your photo, I thought "Big hair Texas meringues!" Hahaha. How funny that they look like little miniature versions of the one in the book.

I totally relate to your post. I've seen the Pastry Queen book, and while I'm tempted to buy it, I also think, "Gosh, it has all the recipes I already have." So I thought that I was okay and would leave it alone. But now, reading your post, I feel like I must go out and buy it. Ack!

5:08 pm, September 12, 2005  
Blogger Reid said...

Hi J,

Another magnificent dessert entry. Are you sure you're not a professional pastry chef in real life? You'd put some of the ones I know to shame. Excellent job once again!

5:47 pm, September 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, another stunning dessert! I've never seen anything quite like those tarts. And what a beautiful picture. Since I guessed that you have a new camera, may I ask which one it is? The image quality is superb.

And did I mention that all three of your cookbook-buying points apply to me? Lately I've become even more compulsive than ever - in the last month and a half I've acquired about twenty new ones (gasp!). And yes, one of those is the Georgian one!

7:56 pm, September 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have really enjoyed reading your blog and getting a glimpse into your world. I also suffer from Chronic Cookbook Addiction (CCA) so I can sympathize with your rationale. I even buy duplicates of favorite cookbooks just in case...

As for wanting a cookbook because of the front cover photo...I had a similar struggle but my object of desire was for "Four Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti. Go run on over to Amazon and take a look at the cover. Since you have a thing for meringue and all things small this is the book cover for you. Unfortunately it is out of print but still available...I got mine at a used bookstore for the kingly sum of $6 in pristine condition.

Since I am nosey and have perused your cookbook collection (squinting so I could read the titles) I know you don't have it yet. You should get it.

8:50 pm, September 12, 2005  
Blogger eat stuff said...

Gorgeous tarts!
of course you need lots of cookbooks! They are your inspiration :)

12:40 am, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi lori,"the pastry queen"...resistance is futile ;)now that i have made the tarts, there's a whole bunch of other recipes i am keen to try from the book - they all have some sort of interesting "twist"...

hi reid, thanks, you are very kind...really appreciate it, especially coming from you!

hi melissa, thanks! i just got a nikon D70s, and am slowly getting to know it much as i am enjoying it, my dream camera (which would have totally busted my budget) is actually the canon EOS year, perhaps...yourself? in a go, girl ;)

hi anon, thanks for the recommendation; i have ms. luchetti's other book, "a passion for desserts", and had been wondering about her earlier i know i need a copy!

12:44 am, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi clare, thanks...i couldn't agree with your rationale more :D

12:45 am, September 13, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Love the spiky-tops to the tarts - I usually do a similar effect with a star tip (to get a ridged effect) on my large meringue pies, but the smooth version looks so very elegant on these miniature versions. Absolutely adorable, and the crust looks to have a lovely texture. I must admit though, I have similar logic in my purchasing habits - much to the chagrin of my dear S and our groaning closets and shelves!

2:10 am, September 13, 2005  
Blogger Anthony said...

"Blitz" now there's a classy verb.

9:35 pm, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's a great camera in my very humble opinion - i've got the D70. there wasn't much debate about nikon vs canon for us since manuel already had nikon gear and lenses, but since buying it i've done a lot of reading and found many people who think the D70 is as good a camera if not better in some areas than the 20D, and much better value. anyway, it's the photographer that really makes the shot, right? ;) and speaking of compulsions, i just ordered another cookbook yesterday...

11:34 pm, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These tarts look so cool with their spike-y punk 'do :) I'm sure they taste fabulous as well...

I can relate with your cook book shopping logic...the unfortunate part (for me) is I apply it to all kinds of shopping! Sigh...

12:04 am, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi J, I love your theory of buying, seems like it would make things less difficult, at the store at least :) The dessert looks and sounds beautiful, I love the meringue in its own little peaks like that.. very nice!

12:48 am, September 14, 2005  
Blogger Joycelyn said...

hi tara, thought of using a star tip too but thought the effect may be pretty rather than spunky :D W used to get rather aggrieved about my hoarding but is pretty ok, even occasionally supportive, about it these days. maybe the trick is to wear em' down ;)

hi amy, thanks...glad it amused you too! i really had fun with this one...

hi skrat, for this particular picture, i shot in aperture-priority mode using a CPU lens, fiddling with the aperture until i got the desired effect. large apertures ie. low f/-numbers, let more light into the camera and soften background details. with a non-CPU lens, you can still control the aperture in manual mode along with the shutter speed to achieve the desired exposure. hope this helps...

hi anthony, tarts need all the semblance of propriety they can get ;)

hi melissa, thanks for confirming my suspicions...i am really happy i got the nikon D70s; it is, as you say, far better value. also, quite a few friends (including a professional photographer) had recommended it for my purposes. my fixation with the canon 20D is thanks to the fact that i've handled it a couple of times (W has one)and it is a pretty amazing instrument. then again, it could well be because of the L-lens W has attached to it...

hi joey, thanks...don't get me started on the subject ;)...

hi michele, thanks...glad we hold the same views regarding retail therapy ;)

10:21 am, September 14, 2005  
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